DifWind VII & IX Reclamation Project, Alameda County, California; Draft Categorical Exclusion and Draft Habitat Conservation Plan

CourtFish And Wildlife Service
Citation86 FR 48241
Publication Date27 Aug 2021
Record Number2021-18449
Federal Register, Volume 86 Issue 164 (Friday, August 27, 2021)
[Federal Register Volume 86, Number 164 (Friday, August 27, 2021)]
                [Notices]
                [Pages 48241-48243]
                From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
                [FR Doc No: 2021-18449]
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                DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
                Fish and Wildlife Service
                [Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2021-0094; FF08ESMF00-FXES11140800000-212]
                DifWind VII & IX Reclamation Project, Alameda County, California;
                Draft Categorical Exclusion and Draft Habitat Conservation Plan
                AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
                ACTION: Notice of availability of permit application; request for
                comment.
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                SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the receipt
                of an application from DifWind Farms Limited VII and DifWind Farms
                Limited IX (collectively, the applicants) for a 6-year incidental take
                permit under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), along with the
                applicants' draft habitat conservation plan. We also announce the
                availability of the associated draft National Environmental Policy Act
                categorical exclusion screening form. The applicants have applied for
                an incidental take permit under the ESA for the DifWind VII & IX
                Reclamation Project in Alameda County, California. The permit would
                authorize the take of two species incidental to the reclamation of a
                decommissioned commercial wind energy project. We invite the public and
                local, State, Tribal, and Federal agencies to comment on the
                application and related documents. Before issuing the requested permit,
                we will take into consideration any information that we receive during
                the public comment period.
                DATES: We must receive your written comments on or before September 27,
                2021.
                ADDRESSES:
                 Obtaining Documents: The draft categorical exclusion screening form
                (CatEx), draft habitat conservation plan (HCP), and any comments and
                other materials that we receive are available for public inspection at
                http://www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2021-0094.
                 Submitting Comments: To submit comments, please use one of the
                following methods, and note that your information requests or comments
                are in reference to the draft CatEx, draft HCP, or both.
                 Internet: Submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov
                under Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2021-0094.
                 U.S. Mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No.
                FWS-R8-ES-2021-0094; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS:
                PRB/3W; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
                 For more information, see Public Comments and Public Availability
                of Comments.
                FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Vincent Griego, Fish and Wildlife
                Biologist, or Ryan Olah, Chief, Coast Bay Division, Fish and Wildlife
                Service, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, by phone at 916-414-6600
                or via the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.
                SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
                (Service), announce the receipt of an application from DifWind Farms
                Limited VII, and DifWind Farms Limited IX (collectively, the
                applicants), for a 6-year incidental take permit (ITP) under the
                Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et
                seq.), along with the applicants' draft habitat conservation plan. We
                also announce the availability of the associated draft National
                Environmental Policy Act categorical exclusion screening form (NEPA; 42
                U.S.C. 4321 et seq.). The applicants have applied for an incidental
                take permit under the ESA for the DifWind VII & IX Reclamation Project
                in Alameda County, California. The permit would authorize the take of
                two species incidental to the reclamation of a decommissioned
                commercial wind energy project. We invite the public and local, State,
                Tribal, and Federal agencies to comment on the application and related
                documents. Before issuing the requested permit, we will take into
                consideration any information that we receive during the public comment
                period.
                 An ITP application requires the preparation of an HCP with measures
                to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the impacts of incidental take to the
                maximum extent practicable. The applicants prepared and submitted for
                Service review their Draft DifWind VII & IX Reclamation Project Habitat
                Conservation Plan (HCP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA. The
                Service then prepared a draft categorical exclusion screening form
                consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as
                amended (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and its implementing
                regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 40 CFR 1501.4,
                and now is making it available in accordance with provisions within 40
                CFR 1506.6. The purpose of the screening form is to confirm that the
                agency action is within a category of actions previously determined,
                pursuant to agency NEPA procedures, not to normally have significant
                effects on the natural and human environment, and thus does not require
                further NEPA evaluation, and that there are no extraordinary
                circumstances that indicate that an otherwise-excluded action may
                warrant further NEPA evaluation.
                Background
                 Section 9 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531-1544 et seq.) and Federal
                regulations (50 CFR 17) prohibit the taking of fish and wildlife
                species listed as endangered or threatened under section 4 of the ESA.
                Regulations governing allowable exceptions to prohibited take of
                endangered and threatened species via permits are at 50 CFR 17.22 and
                17.32. For more about the Federal habitat conservation plan program, go
                to http://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/hcp.pdf.
                National Environmental Policy Act Compliance
                 The proposed permit issuance triggers the need for compliance with
                NEPA. The draft CatEx was prepared to analyze the impacts of issuing an
                ITP based on the draft HCP and to inform the public of the proposed
                action, any alternatives, and associated impacts, and to disclose any
                irreversible commitments of resources. The draft CatEx further confirms
                if an action is within a category of categorically excluded activities
                indicating further NEPA evaluation is not necessary.
                [[Page 48242]]
                Proposed Action Alternative
                 Under the proposed action alternative, the Service would issue an
                ITP to the applicants for a period of 6 years for certain covered
                activities (described below). The applicants have requested an ITP for
                two covered species (described below), which are listed as threatened
                under the ESA.
                Covered Activities
                 The proposed ESA section 10 ITP would allow take of two covered
                species from covered activities in the proposed HCP area. The
                applicants are requesting incidental take authorization to complete the
                decommissioning and removal of a wind energy project originally
                installed in the 1980s and 1990s. The applicants have completed non-
                ground-disturbing work, including the removal of wind turbine blades,
                nacelles, turbine towers, transformers, meteorological masts, and other
                minor aboveground facilities. Under the HCP, the applicants would
                complete the decommissioning and removal of approximately 14
                miscellaneous concrete pads, 17 junction boxes, 308 turbine
                foundations, 41 concrete pad-mount transformer pads, and would restore
                approximately 14.7 miles of access roads. The applicants seeks a 6-year
                permit to match the projected time necessary to complete the activities
                associated with this proposed decommissioning and reclamation project,
                including ground-disturbing activities, and remedial actions, if
                necessary, to ensure restoration of the project site.
                 The applicants propose actions to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the
                effects to the Covered Species associated with the Covered Activities
                through the implementation of the HCP. The proposed mitigation measures
                in the HCP closely follow the avoidance and minimization measures
                outlined in the East Alameda Conservation Strategy (EACCS). The
                measures generally require preconstruction surveys; avoidance and
                monitoring during construction; and best management practices for
                restoration of Covered Species habitat.
                Covered Species
                 The California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) (central
                California distinct population segment), and the California red-legged
                frog (Rana draytonii), both federally listed as threatened, are
                proposed to be included as covered species in the proposed HCP.
                Alternatives
                 In addition to the proposed action alternative in the applicant's
                HCP, as required by the ESA, the HCP considers several alternatives to
                such action's potential taking: (1) The No-Take Alternative; (2) the
                Reduced Take Alternative, and (3) an Other Alternative.
                No-Action Alternative
                 Under the no-action alternative, the Service would not issue an ITP
                to the applicants, and the reclamation would not be completed. The no-
                action alternative is not feasible, based on the purpose and need of
                the project. The existing wind energy project has been partially
                decommissioned, but the applicants are responsible for comprehensive
                decommissioning and reclamation activities. Ground disturbance during
                the final phases of decommissioning/reclamation activities is
                unavoidable, along with plausible incidental take of covered species.
                For these reasons, the no-action alternative has been rejected.
                Reduced Take Alternative
                 Under the reduced take alternative, the applicants considered only
                removing turbine foundations that were located further away from
                aquatic habitat for the covered species. The Service would issue a
                permit, and the applicants would implement the proposed mitigation
                measures. While this reduced take alternative would reduce the amount
                of California tiger salamander and California red-legged frog habitat
                affected, it was determined to be infeasible because the applicants
                have previous agreements with the landowner to remove all project
                components during decommissioning. The applicants would not be able to
                meet their obligations with landowners under this alternative, so the
                reduced take alternative was rejected.
                Other Alternative
                 The applicants also considered restoring fewer miles of roads as an
                alternative. The Service would issue a permit, and the applicants would
                implement the proposed mitigation measures. While this other
                alternative would reduce by a very small amount the amount of
                California tiger salamander and California red-legged frog habitat
                initially affected, the long-term value of rehabilitating areas for
                future habitat would be lost. Additionally, it was determined to be
                generally infeasible because the applicants have previous agreements
                with the landowner to remove all project components during
                decommissioning. So for these reasons, the reduced take alternative was
                rejected.
                Public Comments
                 We request data, comments, new information, or suggestions from the
                public, other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific
                community, Tribes, industry, or any other interested party on this
                notice, the draft CatEx, and the draft HCP. We particularly seek
                comments on the following:
                 (1) Biological information concerning the species;
                 (2) Relevant data concerning the species;
                 (3) Additional information concerning the range, distribution,
                population size, and population trends of the species;
                 (4) Current or planned activities in the subject area and their
                possible impacts on the species; and
                 (5) The presence of archeological sites, buildings and structures,
                historic events, sacred and traditional areas, and other historic
                preservation concerns, which are required to be considered in project
                planning by the National Historic Preservation Act; and
                 (6) Any other environmental issues that should be considered with
                regard to the proposed development and permit action.
                Public Availability of Comments
                 Before including your address, phone number, or other personal
                identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your
                entire comment--including your personal identifying information--might
                be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your
                comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public
                review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.
                Next Steps
                 Issuance of an ITP is a Federal proposed action subject to
                compliance with NEPA and section 7 of the ESA. We will evaluate the
                application, associated documents, and any public comments we receive
                to determine whether the application meets the requirements of section
                10(a) of the ESA. If we determine that those requirements are met, we
                will conduct an intra-Service consultation under section 7 of the ESA
                for the Federal action for the potential issuance of an ITP. If the
                intra-Service consultation confirms that issuance of the ITP will not
                jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened
                species, or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, we will issue
                a permit to the applicant for the incidental take of the California
                tiger salamander and California red-legged frog from the
                [[Page 48243]]
                implementation of the covered activities described in the draft HCP. We
                will make the final permit decision no sooner than 30 days after
                publication of this notice in the Federal Register.
                Authority
                 We publish this notice in compliance with section 10(c) of the
                Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531-1544 et seq.) and its
                implementing regulations at 40 CFR 17.22 and 17.32; and in furtherance
                of objectives under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as
                amended (42 U.S.C. 4321-4347 et seq.), and its implementing regulations
                at 40 CFR 1500-1508.
                Kim S. Turner,
                Acting Field Supervisor, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office,
                Sacramento, California.
                [FR Doc. 2021-18449 Filed 8-26-21; 8:45 am]
                BILLING CODE 4310-55-P
                

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